s clear that a great majority of teachers want better access to ongoing PD. From the PD literature, it's also clear that PD works, and advanced degrees work, when they are in the teachers' disciplines.
And yet, it is very hard to convince university administrators that it's actually OK for research faculty to participate in teacher PD. Case in point: our previous dean hired me to set up the Office of Science Outreach. The new dean eliminated it, declaring that "we don't work with teachers." He also declared that he didn't want to try to collaborate with the School of Education, either. What kind of nuttiness is this?
By "pre-service PD" I refer to teacher-training programs. Like ours, too many separate what to teach from how to teach. In my experience, these are inseparable; different topics require different methods, even within a single field. And yet, science faculty and Education faculty do not communicate well. Long-standing separation of the fields has led to fundamentally different types of training for scientists and Educators, fundamentally different understandings of what teaching and subject matter are, and -- most surprisingly, for me -- fundamentally different conceptions of what science itself is.
Consider Constructivist Teaching. It should be clear that this means each of us must make sense of information ourselves. No one but me can run the neurons in my brain that cause "learning." A good teacher can point me in the right direction to use the right thought processes, and thus learn; but I have to do the learning myself. I suspect that this is pretty obvious to teachers. It's not at all obvious to the general public, which includes students, their parents, and a goodly number of politicians.
And yet, in the educational literature, and specifically in the textbook used to teach Elementary Science Methods, constructivism is not spoken of as "constructing knowledge." It is spoken of as "constructing reality." The activity through which it is demonstrated that science is a personal construction of reality teaches, as near as I can tell, that scientists take a little bit of information, and then guess. Scientific knowledge is tentative, they say, because scientists usually guess wrong.
Where I come from, the process of "doing science" is quite different. You collect a whole lot of data, and then make sense of it. The explanatory models that come out of this are refined as more data is uncovered. But one of the critical rules is that one not build models for which there are no data. Guesses would be such models.
So science faculty teach pre-service teachers one way (not necessarily with the best pedagogy), and Ed faculty teach how to teach science in a very different way. It's got to be unbelievably confusing to pre-service teachers, particularly elementary teachers. I would hope that Secretary Duncan would knock some heads together and say "come on you guys! Talk to each other. Get this straightened out so we can teach science."
On my website, I have been compiling lesson plans, most of which come out of my consultations with teachers. I've tried to make them authentic science, but accessible to students at the appropriate levels. They are what I, as a scientist, consider to be Inquiry. They are not, however, what Education considers to be Inquiry. As evidence, I point to a research paper I co-authored with an Education graduate student, describing a summer program in which teachers came into research labs and participated in cutting edge science. The reviewers of the manuscript didn't like it--they said this was not Inquiry.
Teaching should not be the presentation of "facts" to memorize, and it should not be "open inquiry" in which kids do whatever they want and then report what they did. In every field, teaching should be a Cognitive Apprenticeship. Teachers should be helping students learn how to think -- and how to think differently in different subject areas.
I suspect, based mostly on anecdotal evidence, that changing our teaching strategies so that they give students guidance and practice in authentic disciplinary thinking, largely eliminates the problems we experience with student apathy, boredom, and therefore discipline. When applied to the teaching of evolution, it has been reported to me that parents don't complain to the teacher; rather, they occasionally call and ask if they can sit in on the class, and see "if this evolution stuff really is true."
In an economic atmosphere of austerity, it may not be easy to obtain vast sums of money for full-scale professional development that helps teachers conceptualize how to blend the pedagogy with the disciplines more fully. But it should not be difficult to build effective lesson plans (or better, "learning experiences") that can be archived online and made accessible to everyone. Get rid of the soporific textbooks. Get the information online. Enlist historians to build interesting history learning experiences; enlist scientists to build interesting science learning experiences; ...and do something with math.
I'm not at all sure what to do with math. Our math faculty and our Math Ed faculty are equally puzzled about what to do. My mom was a mathematician, and she was puzzled. My guess is that math should be incorporated into everything that has even a hint of mathishness to it. It's so essential to so many things, we should teach it in the context of many things.
I started this by stating that Professional Development is the critical thing. I also stated that I can't easily separate how to teach from what to teach. I think I've illustrated that here -- my understanding of how effective PD works leads me to see it in the context of how to teach specific topics. PD is most effective when it's oriented at teaching specific things, rather than generic "information;" pre-service training needs to be oriented at teaching specific things, rather than generic "information." But...the only way I see this being brought about is through serious re-thinking the relationship between Educators and discipline-specific college faculty, and re-thinking the role of universities in K-12 education, and re-thinking the role of administrators in making things work.